Disappointment for EU on Rights Discussions

EU observer has today published an article analysing reports on the 11th EU-Russia human rights consultations which took place in Brussels on 28 April.  Russian reluctance to cooperate and a dearth of information on both sides seems to be the overriding themes of the European feedback:

Moscow refuses to send people from the interior ministry or general prosecutor’s office to the meetings, even though one Russian diplomat told this website that law enforcement agencies are the “only” bodies which have a “full picture” of the problems.

When asked by the EU to help audit the past six years of work, Russia reacted negatively. “The RF [Russian Federation] seemed reserved and surprised, despite previous contacts in Moscow and Brussels on this matter. The idea of evaluating the impact of consultations on human rights situation in the RF appeared to bewilder the Russian side,” the internal EU report said.

The EU has no legal mandate to press for changes to the set-up because the whole “consultation” process is based on a verbal agreement at an EU-Russia summit in 2004.

Meanwhile, lack of hard, original information on the EU side weakens its ability to press Russia on individual cases.

The European Commission has built up a long contacts list in Russia after 20 years of running aid projects, including in North Caucasus. But the EU relies mainly on NGOs and member-state embassies to do its homework for the human rights talks.

Some large EU missions, such those from as Italy and Spain, do “nothing” to help, an NGO worker in Moscow said. Greece and Portugal were also said to be uninterested, while most small embassies, such as Estonia and Ireland, lack resources. The most active ones, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, make small-scale fact-finding trips round the country and go to hearings relating to big trials, such as that of oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The NGOs themselves work in a climate of oppression. One of the most effective, Memorial, pulled out of North Caucasus in 2009 after its top activist was murdered, creating an information vacuum.

The EU officials who attend the consultations have security clearance to read classified reports circulated by SitCen, the EU’s intelligence-sharing bureau. But SitCen does not do reports on human rights because it works on emerging conflicts, such as the current unrest in Kyrgyzstan, instead.

The EU tackles human rights in other ways outside the dialogue. Leaders make statements at EU-Russia summits, for example, while the European Commission has this year launched a scheme to give money to NGOs to get at-risk people out of Russia quickly.

Read on here.